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2012 Royals Preview: Royals 2012: Climbing the Rungs of the AL Central

Travis Hines

Travis Hines

Travis Hines writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

2012 Kansas City Team Preview

The Royals ended a two-year stint in the basement of the American League Central last season despite another 90-loss year. They did so with contributions from their much-vaunted farm system, with Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar, Mike Moustakas and others providing a boost in KC rather than at Triple-A Omaha. The Royals again will rely on that young corps, but they also brought in notable pitchers Jonathan Broxton (Los Angeles) and Jonathan Sanchez (San Francisco) to boost a pitching staff thatís thin both in the bullpen and starting rotation. We could see more of the farm system this season in Wil Myers and Mike Montgomery, both of whom the Royals are high on. Detroit appears to be the class of the division, but Kansas City has the look of a team not too far removed from the rest of the AL Central.

Offseason Moves:

Signed pitcher Jonathon Broxton to a one-year contract.

For the first four-and-a-half years of his career, Broxton was among the league's elite relievers, eventually taking over the closer role from Takashi Saito in 2008 and earning National League All-Star nods the subsequent two seasons. Since the All-Star break in 2010, however, Broxton has been limited to 36.2 innings and a 6.63 ERA, lacking the velocity and command he exhibited in prior years. Broxton eventually underwent elbow surgery in September after tossing just 12.2 innings in 2011. He's reportedly expected to be healthy come spring training, where he'll don a Royals jersey via a one-year, $4 million contract. The Royals have Joakim Soria and seemingly Greg Holland ahead of him in the closer pecking order, but a healthy Broxton could be in line for saves at some point in 2012.

Re-signed pitcher Bruce Chen to a two-year contract.

Chen turned in another productive season for the Royals in 2011 as he registered 97 strikeouts and 50 walks with a 3.77 ERA in 155 innings. His 1.94 K/BB ratio was his highest since 2006, when he was with the Orioles. One reason for his success is his slider, which he threw nearly 28 percent of the time, the most in his career. If owners can deal with the lack of strikeouts, Chen should once again be a valuable back-end starter in deeper leagues after returning to the Royals on a two-year deal in November.

Traded center fielder Melky Cabrera to the Giants for pitcher Jonathan Sanchez.

Sanchez took a step back last year, as he finished with a career-high 5.86 BB/9IP. His average fastball velocity (89.9 mph) was also a career-low, though not by a significant amount and his strikeout rate (9.06 K/9IP) remained strong. Sanchezís season ended in mid August thanks to an ankle injury, and there were rumblings San Francisco thought he could have pitched later in the year. Possibly as a result, he was traded to Kansas City during the offseason, so he moves to the tougher league and to less of a pitchersí park. Sanchez will be a part of the Royals rotation, and thereís upside with his strikeout ability and that he's still just 29, but his utter lack of control makes him maddeningly inconsistent. All those walks could lead to an ugly ERA now that he's in the American League.

Signed utilityman Yuniesky Betancourt one-year contract.

For all of Betancourt's many shortcomings, consistency is not one of them. He reliably plays poor defense, swings at everything and has moderate power for a middle infielder. Betancourt checked off all three again last season. He'll likely move to a utility role after signing a one-year deal with Kansas City.

Signed third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff to a minor-league contract with spring training invite.

Kouzmanoff has never quite reached the offensive expectations he garnered as a prospect, but the saving grace was often his excellent defensive work at third base. He struggled in the field early last season with the A's and quickly lost his job to Andy LaRoche before a groin injury slowed him in May and he was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento in June. As expected, he hit well in the hitter-friendly PCL as a 29-year-old with an .891 OPS at Sacramento before the Rockies acquired him in August. He didn't do enough with Colorado (.713 OPS) to stick and signed a minor league contract with Kansas City. His contract has an opt out clause on May 1 if he's not on the big league roster, so he may just be insurance if Mike Moustakas struggles this spring.

Projected Lineup/Rotation:

Lineup (vs. RH/LH)

1.Alex Gordon, LF
2.Lorenzo Cain, CF
3.Billy Butler, DH
4.Eric Hosmer, 1B
5.Jeff Francoeur, RH
6.Mike Moustakas, 3B
7.Alcides Escobar, SS
8.Johnny Giavotella, 2B
9.Salvador Perez, C

Mitch Maier figures to be the fourth outfielder and should see regular work across the board while the Royals will turn to utilitymen Yuniesky Betancourt and Chris Getz to spell much of the infield throughout the season.

Rotation

1.Luke Hochevar
2.Bruce Chen
3.Jonathan Sanchez
4.Felipe Paulino
5.Danny Duffy/Luis Mendoza/Aaron Crow/Mike Montgomery

The top three spots in the rotation are pretty solid while spots four and five are less surefire. Mike Montgomery figures to open the year in the minors, but has been out of the more highly-touted arms in the Royals farm system the last few years and has a lot of upside.

Closer: Joakim Soria

Thought to be one of the most dependable closers in the game going into the season, Soria experienced failure for the first time in his career in 2011. He had 60 strikeouts, 17 walks and seven home runs allowed with a 4.03 ERA over 60.1 innings. It's those seven home runs that really did him in as four of them drove in two runs or more. While still hovering around 9.00 K/9IP, Soria's strikeout rate has decreased each of the last two seasons. This is no fluke as his swinging-strike rate has also fallen each of the last two seasons. His velocity however has not decreased, so owners should remain optimistic that Soria can get back to being among the elite closers in baseball for the 2012 season.

Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise

Who rounds out the rotation?

Hochevar-Chen-Sanchez seem strong at the top while the Royals have the typical cast of castoffs and prospects vying for starts on the back end of the rotation. Each have their strengths, but some of the criteria may be what the Royals want to do with the job. Hand it over to Mike Montgomery and let him gain big-league experience or let Luis Mendoza work for cheap and keep a couple young arms in Triple-A to gain more seasoning?

Will Soria return to form?

Soria had been one of the most dominant and consistent closers in the game until hitting adversity last season. There are mixed signals as to whether it was an aberration or trend with his velocity staying steady for Soria but his swinging-strike rate taking a dip, leading to his K/9IP ratio to drop. It appears Soria still has his stuff, itís just a matter of using it the same way which made him an All-Star.

Strengths:
Upside at the top of the rotation along with an experienced bullpen gives the pitching staff some stability, but KCís true strength remains in a promising farm system.

Weakness:
The Royals donít have an ace in the pitching staff and arenít as young around the diamond and in the batting order as some may think. The future success the Royals have hoped for for years still seems a ways off.

Rising:
Lorenzo Cain Ė When he came over from Milwaukee to Kansas City as part of the Zack Greinke deal, many thought Cain would immediately jump into the team's center-field role and run with it. Instead, he spent the majority of the season at Triple-A Omaha where he hit .312/.380/.497 with 16 home runs and steals. He was blocked at the major league level by Melky Cabrera, who turned in a career year, so the move was understandable at the time. With Cabrera getting traded to San Francisco, the door has opened for Cain to step in and finally claim the center-field position. The fact that Ned Yost likes his players to stay active on the basepaths plays right into Cain's skill set as he can hit for average and has shown good speed in the past. That combination alone should have fantasy owners excited about what 2012 holds for Cain.

Falling:
Mike Moustakas - Moose spent the first two months of the season at Triple-A Omaha waiting patiently, before being called up and spending the rest of the season as the Royals' everyday third baseman. He struggled to adjust at the plate, until September came, when he hit .352/.380/.580 with four home runs and 12 RBI. He possesses an ability to hit for average with plus-power that should develop as he continues to grow as a player. At 23, Moustakas has the potential to help many fantasy owners, just don't count on him reaching the elite of position in his sophomore season as he's still honing his craft as a hitter.

Sleeper:
Greg Holland - Holland was arguably the best pitcher on the Royals roster in 2011 and has shown the potential to be a closer at some point down the road. Perhaps most impressive, in his 46 appearances last season, he only had one outing where he allowed two runs or more and even then, he struck out four of the nine batters he faced. A large part of his success is due to his slider, which graded out as the best in the game last season among all relievers by some metrics. With Jonathan Broxton now in the mix, it will be tougher for Holland to factor into late-game situations, but his stuff is good enough to make him relevant no matter what his role in 2012.

Supersleeper:
Jarrod Dyson - Dyson spent the bulk of the 2011 season at Triple-A Omaha, where he hit .279/.356/.357 and stole 38 bases. The speed that he provides was also on display when he stole 11 bases in just 26 games at the major league level. Given that he has trouble making contact and getting on-base, it's unlikely that Dyson will find his way into many games in the 2012 season, baring an injury. He's more suited to be a pinch-runner than an everyday outfielder. Don't be surprised if he spends another season at Triple-A stealing more bases, while his time in Kansas City will likely be served as a fifth outfielder.

Top Prospects

Jake Odorizzi - The best pitching prospect in the Royals system, Odorizzi should have no problem attracting attention from fantasy owners in keeper leagues. Odorizzi dominated High-A Wilmington, before being challenged by Double-A Northwest Arkansas. He was able to maintain his control, but the dominance that allowed him to overpower hitters in Low-A and High-A just wasn't there. Before last season Odorizzi didn't have problems with the long ball, but he served up 13 homers over 68.2 innings. Considering these hurdles, it wouldn't be surprising to see him spend all of 2012 between Double-A and Triple-A as he continues to grow as a pitcher.

Wil Myers - At 21, Myers is among the top prospects in not only the Royals system, but in the entire American League. At Double-A Northwest Arkansas he hit .254/.353/.393 with eight home runs and nine stolen bases. While that might not sound like much, it should be noted that Myers was making a defensive switch from catcher to outfielder and dealing with an infection in his knee early in the season. His lack of power is a bit of a concern, but he's still young with time to grow into his body. Owners would be wise to track his progress in the minors as a promotion may come as soon as late 2012.

Mike Montgomery - A first-round pick in 2008, Montgomery's development hit a speed bump in 2011 as he spent the entire season trying to overcome control issues. He had 129 strikeouts and 69 walks with a 5.32 ERA over 150.2 innings at Triple-A Omaha. His penchant for walks isn't something new as walked almost 4.0 BB/9IP while at Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2010. Only 22 years old, there's still time for Montgomery to figure things out and capitalize upon the skills that made him a top pitching prospect entering the 2011 season.

Christian Colon - After a promising debut at High-A Wilmington, Colon fell flat at Double-A Northwest Arkansas as he produced a .257/.325/.342 batting line with eight home runs and 17 stolen bases. For most shortstops those numbers might be acceptable, but Colon was the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, so expectations are elevated. He'll need to develop more power or speed if he's going to become a legitimate fantasy prospect. At 22 years old, there's still time, but Colon will need to get moving quick. A move to second base could be in the works with Alcides Escobar locked in a short in Kansas City, but the Royals have at least one more year of development before Colon is on their radar.

Bubba Starling - Starling was the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft. A local prospect, he came straight out of high school, bypassing a potential stay at the University of Nebraska, where he could have played both baseball and football. Expected to move quickly through the Royals' system, owners will want to track Starling as he is viewed as an elite level prospect with power and speed.

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